R Dir: Wes Craven | Arrow Video | 1h 29min
Plot: What’s it about?
Arrow Video recently sent me a copy of The Hills Have Eyes, the well known exploitation classic by Wes Craven. When I was in college I had a good friend that had shown me the remake of the movie over a case of Bud Light. I remember that it had made a distinct impression on me and was one of the more unique horror films that I had seen. I remembered that I had marveled at how effective the film was while never wanting to see it again. When given the chance to watch the original film, I could not pass up the chance.
The plot of the film revolves around the Carter family, six adults and a baby, that are traveling across the Arizona desert towards California with their two large dogs in a camper attached to a station wagon. They take a wrong turn and end up in a nuclear testing area. Distracted by some fighter jets, they crash their car. As the men split up to try to save the day, inbred hillpeople begin to stalk the camp.
Being an exploitation film, The Hills Have Eyes goes farther than most modern films (with the exception of the remake which is much more graphic and insane.) That should serve as a fair warning to any viewer that is looking for a nice easy-going experience. This movie’s goal is to shock and horrify the viewer, and it absolutely succeeds. This also makes the movie very difficult to watch.
That said, the film is not gratuitous in sexuality or violence. It implies much more than it shows, but it succeeds at making the viewer think reprehensible thoughts. The first third of the film is pretty solid and reminded me of the Peter Weir film Picnic at Hanging Rock which had been released two years earlier. The middle of the film is pretty good as the suspense builds and must have been incredibly shocking at the time. Unfortunately, the last third of the film can not deliver on the promise of the first two thirds. After watching both the original and the remake, I personally prefer the last third of the remake because the new film manages to make the last third of the film truly fantastic, while enjoying the first two thirds of the original. I am aware that some will consider this to be sacrilege, but they should stop being such dorks and let me have an opinion that differs from theirs.
So… at the end of the day The Hills Have Eyes is an effective thriller and horror film. It has some truly horrific ideas. That said, it is also very dated and suffers from pacing issues and is somewhat sloppily put together due to their budgetary constraints. This is not surprising given the time it was made, but is worth noting. Like most horror and exploitation films, watch at your own peril!
Video: How’s it look?
Arrow Video did a great job on the transfer of the film using an MPEG 4 AVC codec of a new 4K restoration. Fine detail is good and grain has been preserved without any over correction. Here is the bad news, this film still looks as low budget as it was. The 4K restoration does not keep the movie from having that worn look and feel and from being out of focus constantly. In a case like this, all you can do is admire the work put into the restoration, while knowing that Blu-ray does not exactly make it shiny and new. From looking at other reviewers, this is the best it has ever looked.
Audio: How’s it sound?
The audio treatment of The Hills Have Eyes leaves a little bit to be desired. My guess, from watching other Arrow Video releases, would be that this was the absolute best that they could do using original source elements. Unfortunately, it all has that slightly canned and distorted sound, as if the microphones were just too close to the actors, even in the post dubbing. This meant that certain lines are a bit harder to understand than usual. The music by Don Peake is very effective in the film, but the limitations of the recording at the time affect the fidelity of the track. Similar to the video, this is the best that we can expect from the audio, but that doesn’t make it ideal.
Supplements: What are the extras?
- Trailers – US, German, and TV trailers
- Looking Back On The Hills Have Eyes (54:35): A really enjoyable piece on the making of the film. Includes interviews with Craven, producer Peter Locke, and many others. This has been included on a prior release, but is a great piece.
- Family Business (16:08): a brand new interview with Martin Speer who played the vengeful father in the film. He tells his experiences on the film and some of his thoughts on how he did in the film. Not the best piece, but has some interesting parts.i would probably just skip this feature.
- The Desert Sessions (11:00): a brand new discussion with composer Don Peake. This feature is excellent. Really good stuff. Don tells how they recorded the score and what instruments were used for key scenes.
- Alternate Ending (11:34): Presented for the first time in HD. You can also play this with the film instead of separately which is a great touch. This ending changes the order of a couple scenes and ends on a more positive note than the ending they used. I prefer the one they used, but got a good laugh from the other.
- Outtakes (18:57): a load of outtakes from the film. Some of these are pretty funny, but all of them give a good feel for what the set felt like during filming.
- Image Gallery – 40 images of posters and promotional material
- Audio Commentaries – there are THREE COMMENTARIES!
- The first is with the cast. – an exclusive commentary with four of the cast members from the film. I was not as interested in this one.
- The second is with Wes Craven and Peter Locke.- this is as enjoyable as you would expect. I could listen to Craven talk all day.
- The third is with Mikel J. Koven – an exploitation expert that focuses on how legend influenced the film and other influences of the film. Pretty cool.
The Bottom Line
The Hills Have Eyes is a bit of a classic in the exploitative horror genre. The ideas are still frightening today and still make the skin crawl. That said, the movie is a bit uneven and dated. For fans, this release is an absolute no-brainer. The supplements are absolutely fantastic, and Arrow has provided flawless (flaw filled) transfers of the audio and video. I personally am somewhat averse to watching this film again, because it really gets under my skin (as it should, right?) That said, the special features have great replay value. This film will not be to everybody’s taste, so make sure you rent before you buy. For fans, what are you waiting on?